Fourth-ranked Louisville women make a statement in testy crushing of No. 14 Notre Dame

Anthony Anderson
Tribune Correspondent
Notre Dame's Olivia Miles, left, gets pressure from Louisville's Hailey Van Lith (10) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

SOUTH BEND —  A nightmare this horrific usually requires a moment to at least close one’s eyes, but it felt like Notre Dame didn’t even get the benefit of blinking.

No. 4 Louisville hastily turned Sunday’s women’s basketball showdown against the No. 14 Irish into a virtual no-contest, shredding the hosts 31-3 through one quarter and leading 45-4 by 4:13 into the second on its way to an 86-64 victory that was never in doubt.

Notre Dame coach Niele Ivey called it the first time she’s ever been part of a hole that deep that quick, and said she’s sure the same is true for each of her players.

One game at a time: A journey through Notre Dame's 2021-22 women’s basketball season

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“The bad taste in our mouths today, I hope it fuels us for the rest of the season,” Ivey said. “It has to fuel us. It’s zero-zero on Friday (when the Irish play in an Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament quarterfinal).”

ND (21-7, 13-5) will be the No. 3 seed and have a double bye before facing an opponent to be determined. North Carolina State clinched its first regular-season ACC title on Sunday night and will be the tournament's top seed. Louisville is the No. 2 seed, putting the Irish and the Cardinals on a possible semifinal rematch on Saturday. North Carolina is the No. 4 seed, also getting a double bye.

The tourney begins Wednesday, with the Irish not playing until the late game on Friday night.

The Cardinals improved to 25-3 overall, 16-2 in the ACC.

“We could play them 50 times and I wouldn’t expect a first quarter to be 31 to 3,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz said of the Irish. “It was one of those days for them, but defensively, I felt we caused a lot of it.”

Notre Dame's Sonia Citron (11) goes up for a shot with pressure from Louisville's Mykasa Robinson (5) and Payton Verhulst (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

The contrast in the early shooting numbers was astonishing.

The Cardinals made 10 of their first 12 attempts from the field, including 7-of-7 from 3-point land, over the opening 8:17 for a 27-3 lead.

The Irish missed 17 of their first 18 tries from the field on the way to their 45-4 deficit.

“My best player had a foul (in five seconds),” Ivey said of Maya Dodson being whistled for a charge on a drive off the opening tip. “I felt that really triggered (things) right from the beginning. I’ve never had a foul in the first five seconds, and then after that, it was almost like 3, 3, 3 (by Louisville). They were hot. We never adjusted in our zone, tried to go man … had to call a couple timeouts.”

Notre Dame's Anaya Peoples (21) drives in as Louisville's Hailey Van Lith (10) defends during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Nothing really worked in the first half as Louisville built a 51-15 lead.

Then ND actually outscored the Cardinals 49-32 in the second half, including 30-15 in the fourth quarter, albeit with the outcome firmly secured.

“We’re very talented, but we’re getting to the part of the season where talent isn’t enough,” Dodson said. “We have to make sure we have that toughness from the first to fourth quarter. It didn’t show up today, but I hope this week we’re gonna go to work, and Friday we’re gonna put it together.”

Dodson scored 12 points for the Irish to go with two blocked shots.

Louisville's Merissah Russell (13) drives into Notre Dame's Maya Dodson (0) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

Olivia Miles led ND with 13 points and four assists. Dara Mabrey added 12 points and Sonia Citron 10.

Louisville guards Hailey Van Lith and Kianna Smith scored 20 points apiece.

Emily Engstler added 17 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots.

An exchange of shoves unfolded between the teams at the 2:49 mark of the second quarter, just after Miles scored on a layup to make the score 48-10.

Two players on each side — Miles and Mabrey for the Irish, and Van Lith and Mykasa Robinson for the Cardinals — were each called for intentional fouls after officials reviewed the incident on a video monitor.

Louisville's Emily Engstler (21) blocks a shot by Notre Dame's Dara Mabrey (1) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

“It’s just competitive basketball,” Van Lith said. “I don’t think there’s any bad blood between either team. We both had to protect our own player, and that’s just how it goes, and we both played a clean game after that.”

Ivey said she didn’t see the full incident, but added that “I don’t condone that. Maybe just the emotions, frustration. It was probably more of a frustration situation. Never like that, don’t want the game to get ugly.”

The game was, after all, ugly enough on the scoreboard, although the Irish made it far less so during the second half.

Notre Dame's Sonia Citron (11) competes for a loose ball with Louisville's Emily Engstler (21) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend, Ind. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

“It was more about pride (than any adjustments),” Ivey said. “We wanted to finish the game knowing we left it all on the floor.”

The loss was Notre Dame’s first of the season at Purcell Pavilion in 14 outings.

Skylar Diggins-Smith returns

The Irish wore warm-up shirts that saluted their four ex-players who were all Olympians at the 2021 Summer Games in Skylar Diggins-Smith, Jewell Loyd, Jackie Young and Natalie Achonwa.

Diggins-Smith was present and introduced after the first quarter to a warm ovation.

The Phoenix Mercury star also met with the team shortly after the game.

“It means a lot,” Dodson said of that huddle. “She means so much to this team. She’s a legend here and she’s a legend now. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to give her the game we wanted, but at least being able to hear what she thinks, and talking to us about how we still have time to play and just get better. She talked to us about mindset.

“I don’t think we came out with that mindset that we were gonna play tough,” Dodson said, “and that’s what exposed us in the first quarter.”

Skylar Diggins-Smith sits with family to watch the Notre Dame-Louisville NCAA women’s basketball game on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022, in South Bend.

While the appearance by Diggins-Smith at a game was her first public one since at least 2016-17, Ivey called the South Bend native a constant friend of the program.

“She means so much to me personally,” Ivey said, “not just as a former player, but she’s somebody I lean on. We’re really close. She’s somebody who supports me, and she supports our team. She calls me after every game, texts before and after. She really supports this program.”

Diggins-Smith and Loyd each helped the U.S. capture gold in Tokyo. Young was part of the victorious 3-on-3 team. Achonwa represented Team Canada.

No. 4 LOUISVILLE 86, No. 14 NOTRE DAME 64

LOUISVILLE (25-3): Cochran 1-5 1-2 3, Engstler 8-11 0-0 17, Hall 6-8 0-0 13, Smith 9-16 0-0 20, Van Lith 8-15 0-0 20, Dixon 4-4 0-0 8, Parker 0-0 0-0 0, Konno 1-1 0-0 2, Robinson 1-2 0-0 2, Russell 0-2 1-2 1, Schetnan 0-0 0-0 0, Verhulst 0-1 0-0 0, Totals 38-65 2-4 86

NOTRE DAME (21-7): Dodson 5-9 2-4 12, Westbeld 1-6 0-0 2, Citron 1-6 8-12 10, Mabrey 4-9 2-2 12, Miles 5-9 3-6 13, Brunelle 2-7 0-0 6, Peoples 4-7 0-0 9, Cernugel 0-0 0-0 0, Totals 22-53 15-24 64

Louisville | 31 | 23 | 17 | 15—86

Notre Dame 3 | 12 | 19 | 30—64

3-Point Goals—Louisville 8-14 (Engstler 1-3, Hall 1-2, Smith 2-4, Van Lith 4-5), Notre Dame 5-14 (Westbeld 0-1, Mabrey 2-6, Miles 0-2, Brunelle 2-3, Peoples 1-2). Assists_Louisville 19 (Engstler 6), Notre Dame 9 (Miles 4). Fouled Out—Louisville Verhulst. Rebounds—Louisville 40 (Engstler 10), Notre Dame 22 (Citron 8). Total Fouls—Louisville 20, Notre Dame 11. Technical Fouls—None. A—7,531.